Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man - 'I know that 'ifs' and 'buts' are as pointless as wooden chippy forks but, once the dust settles on a very unsettling season, it will show how close to getting out of this mess we actually came...'

Our panel of Latics experts run the rule over a pivotal weekend for a club that’s shown its fighting spirit – on and off the pitch – in recent weeks...but will it be enough…?
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Paul Middleton:

Ever wonder how fine the margins in football can be? Then consider this. If we hadn’t been deducted three points, and if we’d bothered to turn up against Blackpool, we wouldn’t be in the relegation spots. I know that 'ifs' and 'buts' are as pointless as wooden chippy forks but, once the dust settles on a very unsettling season, it will show how close to getting out of this mess we actually came. Alas, all it takes is one result to go against us, and even us winning the last two games won’t matter. We all love League One, let’s be honest. But that doesn’t mean I want to spend every other year in there. For every year we spend lower than Championship level, the finances of the club take a huge hit. This then has the knock-on effect of preventing growth and progression. For a club with ambition, this is a problem. But all is not lost. Luton have shown it’s possible to do things well, to even the tightest budget. The problem for them is that, if they don’t go up this year, this may be their one and only chance gone. It’s rare clubs running on such tight margins have two good years in a row. The worth of the players rockets, but their wages at Luton won’t rocket in tandem. They could easily get a lot more money at another, bigger spending, club. Not all footballers want to get to the Premier League, as they know they’re not good enough and wouldn’t get many games. That makes big money in the Championship very attractive. Let’s face it, it’s a large part of our own path towards 2005. But let’s assume, just for a minute, we manage to stay up. What then? Your guess is as good as mine. We still have lots of players under contract, some clearly not up to things in this league. We also probably don’t have the budget to make things all that much better in the short term. Survive another year in the Championship and it might be different, but it might also be very, very grim if we don’t. We might be Luton, but we might be Derby. So is League One a good solution? Yes and no, for my money. Yes it’s good fun, and it allows us to reset from the myriad issues this season. But no in that every year we spend out of the top two divisions devalues us as an attractive option for the better players. I’d like us to somehow stay up and rebuild from a higher division, but I’m not sure that’s even practical at present, never mind if it’s even possible. So, anyway, let’s assume all results go our way until the last day. Huddersfield play Reading in the last game, and a win for either will relegate us regardless of anything else that happens in the meantime. The only way it won’t relegate us is if we suddenly score a load of goals in the next two games, and Reading concede even more before beating Huddersfield 1-0. The second might happen, but I think we know the first won’t.

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Latics need to win at Reading this weekend to give them any sort of chance of survival


Well I'll tell you who I feel sorry for...the Fat Lady. She's been warming up for weeks but, with two fine victories, the hope that kills you is still there. The fight determination and no lack of good football, against the flat cap nation of scruffs from South London, was a joy to behold last weekend. One of the few highlights of a poor season. A proper team performance. All we can do is try and win the last two games in that style, then it's up to the footballing Gods of other teams' results. So tune in on Saturday - either in the stands or via various media outlets - and have the hope of another win send your heart rate to 300 beats a minute, or near to zero, or your blood pressure is that high your face looks like Alan Brazil after he's had a good day at the races. But it's Wigan Athletic and we love it. Stay safe.

Red Ned:

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The last couple of games have seen a marked improvement at Latics, but it looks like it's sadly going to be too little, too late. The quality Shaun Maloney derided as being simply not there after the Blackpool game was suddenly found, with both Will Keane and Thelo Aasgaard providing excellent finishes in the wins over Stoke and Millwall. Maybe the more energetic performances are down to Maloney's coaching and style of play finally coming to fruition, or maybe it's because the pressure is off (sort of) with relegation looking certain. We now go into the final two games, against Reading and Rotherham, looking for the team to continue that improvement until the season's end, and who knows what could happen? It could be the three-point deduction comes back to haunt us massively. In relation to that, please keep an eye out on social media platforms for developments regarding an Independent Latics Supporters' movement. Work is still going on regards the initiative. Mon the Latics.

Matt Auffrey:

With six minutes left in regular time, and a couple of minutes of stoppage to come, the 1-1 scoreline against Millwall put us on the brink of relegation. We had pressed hard for a second goal all half, but could not find that extra bit of quality to achieve a breakthrough. However, within a matter of seconds, our fortune would change for the better. Keane to Lang. Lang to Thelo. Thelo to goal. Masterpiece. The 'Believe Bus' was given just enough of a tune-up to make it to at least one more stop on the ‘Road to Survival’. There’s been no shortage of discussion online about the exact concoction of results that will be needed in order for Latics to preserve their Championship status for another season. The possibilities would expand further if our horrendous goal difference didn’t restrict our chances against teams that may finish with the same points total come season’s end. Yet, the only thing we can control at this point in time are the results of our final two fixtures. Winning at Reading on Saturday is more important than anything else. I firmly believe Latics can end the season with two more victories and achieve their first four-match winning streak since January 2022. The downside is that, even if we produce the right amount of magic in our own matches, the amount of sheer luck that we’ll need to harvest from the other fixtures turns a tall task into one that is highly improbable. Even a mathematician with the most rose-coloured glasses donning a blue and white top would be hard pressed to give Latics more than a one per cent chance at a successful final outcome, given everything they need to go their way. What’s most frustrating is knowing that on May 8 at 5 pm, Latics could’ve very well done enough on the pitch over 46 matches to finish 21st or higher in the league table. With each win to come, there’s a greater and greater likelihood that the team could stay up if they were given the opportunity to earn maximum points with no deduction. As easy as it would be for all of us to maintain the ‘win now, worry later’, mindset, the off-the-pitch letdowns of the past few months are too much to ignore. Yet, the dream still exists for a few more days at minimum. Credit to the players for bouncing back from a dreadful performance at Blackpool and responding with two massive results last week. Credit to the fans who continue to travel up and down the country, through the good and the bad, and boosted the team to victory last weekend by creating a tremendous atmosphere. Lastly, credit to the gaffer and his staff for their leadership over the past few months, during what has been a much different journey than the one they signed up for in January. Let's give it our best go on Saturday then see where we stand at the end of the weekend. Our work is not done yet.

Ed Bazeley:

Wigan Athletic have now won two games in a row for the first time since September, and with that comes a glimmer of hope, as we are now consequently just four points behind safety despite still being rooted at the bottom of the league table. However, even for a side with Wigan’s rich history when it comes to pulling off a great escape, the prospect of avoiding the drop in this predicament seems unlikely. What the performance against Millwall showed, though, is everything great about Wigan Athletic is still intact. It’s just been locked away somewhere for far too long. But the passion and desire among this close-knit squad of players has come out in full swing during the victories over Stoke and Millwall. The move for the winning goal over the Lions, set up by one Academy graduate and finished off by another, only goes to show that, no matter what division we may be in, there can always be hope for the future in terms of on-pitch affairs. Remarkably, Latics are currently playing like a side who could well win four games in a row for the first time this season, by winning the last four games of the campaign. The reality is that, even if we do pull that off, other results probably won’t fall completely our way - and that will send the Tics down. We’re relying on too many other teams to not do their bit in terms of their own survival. If, as Latics fans, we can sit here and claim we’re capable of beating both Reading and Rotherham, despite the awful season we’ve had, then we have to be acutely aware it’s highly unlikely that all three of Huddersfield, Reading and Blackpool will get worse results than us for the rest of the season. Even if we hadn’t been docked those three points, the only side in this relegation scrap we’d actually be above is Blackpool. On the contrary, if that was the case we’d only be one point behind safety, with Cardiff and Rotherham back in reach. At the same time, add six points back to Reading’s tally, and they’d probably be fine. However, the really frustrating thing is the most likely scenario now looks like Latics will be relegated by three points or fewer, which could be put entirely down to the board’s financial mismanagement. That would then see two relegations from the second tier in three years come around as the result of points deductions. Latics are now well and truly ‘one of those clubs who have been through it in terms of bad ownership. Something which seemed impossible under the safe ownership of the Whelans and David Sharpe. As with our last drop to the third tier, we aren’t the only club going down, at least in part, due to financial mismanagement. It was Latics and Charlton last time, and this time it could well be Latics and Reading. I just hope we still have something to fight for come the last game of the season, because the DW atmosphere should be brilliant. Plus, once things really do get down to the wire (if they do), anything can happen. Keep everything crossed, Tics!

David Hassett:

Something was different on Saturday - positivity. I’m sure lots of us feared the worst, resigned to the inevitable. And yet, it didn’t happen and we’re still fighting. Common sense says it was just delaying the inevitable, too little too late. But common sense says there’s football on TV so why sit in a cold stadium. Common sense says just support a team that wins more than they lose and who can spend the GDP of a small nation to sign who they want on wages the rest of us will never earn in a lifetime. We’re not fans because of common sense. Maybe that explains the faint optimism around the ground, and the number of people saying they’ve booked their travel and bought their tickets for a long trip to Reading. Even the weather was all right, avoiding a soaking for the brave volunteers handing out flyers. That got me thinking. If a couple of results can change thoughts of 'we’re finished' to 'it can’t happen, surely…', what else can we change? There are always things we’re not happy about that are outside our control - the player we want to see that doesn’t get picked; the pass we call for that doesn’t get played; the shot that doesn’t get taken. But there are things we can change. There are more and more ways of getting involved beyond being a spectator, and that are more constructive than just having a good moan (enjoyable as that sometimes is). More people doing more and being more active can only be a good thing. Echo chambers without constructive criticism, where people just listen to those saying what they want to hear, aren’t good for anyone, and football clubs are no different. More people offering more ideas is good. So if there’s something about your football experience that you’re not happy with and it’s something you can do something about, say something. Do something - join a group, get involved, go to a meeting, contribute to a fanzine, write a 12th Man submission. Let people know your ideas and what you think. Without that, things get stale, people get complacent and frustration builds. A forward thinking club should be open to all - why not make yourself part of that?

Sean Livesey

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So near, yet so far. Latics have finally roared to life but, for all intents and purposes, it's about a fortnight too late. Back-to-back wins for the first time under Shaun Maloney, and some fabulous performances all over the pitch, against Millwall made our impending relegation even more frustrating. On our day we can play, and we can play well. There are two decisions that will see us relegated this year, and I know I'm labouring the point, but they are decisions that need acknowledging, so the powers-that-be don't make the same mistakes ever again. Decision one was the ludicrous decision to go after a manager with zero experience, actually pay compensation for him, and wait over a fortnight to appoint him, due to said compensation discussions. The second was to not pay salaries on time, leading to an automatic three-point deduction. Probably influenced by the financial decisions made in the point referenced above. Examine these, and you can see exactly why we're hurtling back to League One. Still, cest la vie. No matter how many times I go over it in my head, it won't change anything. We are where we deserve to be, even if that's down to self-inflicted mistakes. As galling as our situation is, it's doubly so when you see that in four of the last five seasons, our current points total would have kept us up. Turn that frustration up another notch when you see Burnley, who have spent the season sweeping everything in their wake to one side (like some huge East Lancashire mutant winning machine), seemed to forget how to win and indeed even draw against Reading and QPR last week. Don't worry, though, they managed to remember in time for Tuesday's match against Blackburn. So the situation is now well out of our hands and, even if we manage to turn our two-match winning run in to a four-match winning run, we're reliant on Huddersfield not winning any of their last three matches, and indeed failing to pick up more than a point. Mathematically not impossible, but realistically? Yeah, realistically we know where we're heading. Still - let's end on a positive note. I've seen a lot of criticism to Shaun Maloney in recent weeks. Which is like blaming Sir Keir Starmer for the state of Britain over the last 13 years. Maloney's record is infinitely better than Toure's, and indeed is looking good alongside Leam Richardson's Championship tenure. We've tightened up at the back hugely (sixth best defensive team in the division now) and, although we still look far too toothless going forward, the likes of Callum Lang, Will Keane and Josh Magennis have battled magnificently over the last three games. All three are important players for this side, and in particular Keane - of 'he only ever scores goals' fame - has done fantastically well for this club over the last three seasons. His goal record is approaching the best in the club's history and, with 50 league goals to his name, he surely must be one for Maloney to build around next season. This season has been a disaster, but coming away on Saturday I felt pride...pride in the way that wee magician who set Wembley alight 10 years ago has put some pride back in to our shirt. If we do go down on Saturday, this relegation isn't on Maloney. He deserves the tools and the backing (both financially and from the terraces) to show what he can do next season. I've got faith that he'll give us a season to be proud of.